Should Addicts Avoid Sugar During Recovery?

Content medically reviewed by Vicky Magobet, PMHNP-BC, on March 28, 2022.

Recovering from drug addiction takes considerable effort and dedication. The body is working hard to rebalance its hormones and neurological and chemical processes. As a result, people can experience various uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms and cravings, which you can manage through treatment and healthy coping mechanisms.

However, some people turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms like sugar, creating a new addiction while they're in the recovery process. Learn more below about the relationship between drug addicts and sugar craving, how to avoid sugar while in recovery and some of the health risks associated with excess sugar consumption.

Why Do Drug Addicts Crave Sugar?

When a person is recovering from addiction, their body is trying to rebalance itself and adjust to sobriety. There are numerous physical, mental and emotional changes happening at once, and it can often be an intense experience.

To cope, some people use sugar since sugary foods are an easily accessible and familiar comfort food. When we consume sugar, dopamine is released, the hormone responsible for our pleasure — which is also a hormone that some drugs trigger. The high and euphoric feeling from dopamine makes people in recovery crave sugar, particularly as they experience sugar rushes.

This sweet substance can help those in recovery meet their psychological needs. While sugar isn't as strong as other addictive substances, a person going through withdrawal treatment or in recovery can develop a replacement addiction to sugar if they consume enough to cause similar chemical reactions in the brain as drugs do.

Certain substance addictions can also create cravings for sugar. For example, chronic opioid misuse can increase the desire for sugar — opioids are thought to activate certain receptors that create a preference for sweet foods. When a person is going through opioid misuse treatment, they may choose sugary foods to find comfort and trigger dopamine releases. Other substances, like heroin and methamphetamine, can also make those with substance issue crave sugar.

excessive sugar can cause health issues

Excess sugar can cause various health issues and create additional health problems to manage while going through addiction recovery.

General Health Risks of Sugar

Excess sugar can be detrimental to your health in many ways and can cause various conditions, including:

  • Weight gain: Sugary foods often contain fructose, which increases your hunger and causes resistance to leptin, a hormone that signals to your body that it's time to stop eating. A high sugar intake will make it easier to consume more calories, causing weight gain.
  • Cardiovascular problems: A high-sugar diet can cause various issues with the heart, including heart disease. Sugar can also clog your arteries and cause conditions such as atherosclerosis, blocking blood flow.
  • Acne: Sugary foods are known to cause acne in many people by increasing inflammation and oil production.
  • Type 2 diabetes: Consuming a lot of sugar can put you at risk for type 2 diabetes and is considered one of the primary risk factors. A high sugar diet can increase insulin resistance, which causes blood sugar levels to rise. The more sugar you consume, the higher your risk of type 2 diabetes.
  • Cancer: A high sugar diet can increase your risk of certain cancers. This is because sugar can cause obesity, inflammation and insulin resistance, which can contribute to developing cancer. Women who eat excessive sweets throughout the week are also at an increased risk of endometrial cancer.
  • Skin aging: Sugar consumption can cause fine lines and wrinkles, making you appear older. Acne can also damage the skin, increasing redness, texture and scarring.
  • Energy reduction: Sugar may give you a bout of energy, but it's short-lived. Your body will have blood sugar fluctuations, draining your energy and leaving you feeling fatigued.
  • Fatty liver: Fructose can only be broken down in the liver, which is converted into energy or stored as glycogen. The liver can only store so much glycogen before it turns into fat, which can result in non-alcohol fatty liver disease.
  • Kidney disease: Excessive sugar consumption can raise your blood sugar, damaging the blood vessels in the kidneys. This damage can increase the risk of kidney disease.

How to Avoid Sugar During Recovery

Too much sugar is a problem for everyone, especially for people currently in recovery. Some of the consequences of consuming sugar in recovery include:

  • Potential for a new addiction: A person in recovery can rely on sugar for the euphoric feeling that substances once provided. However, it's never a good idea to replace one addiction with another, as this will only impede your progress and cause additional health concerns.
  • Physical health implications: Sugar has various effects on the body, including high blood pressure, inflammation, weight gain and heart problems. Sugar isn't a required nutrient in your diet, and while small amounts are naturally present in certain foods like fruits, excess sugar intake can cause serious health effects.
  • Impact on mental health: Excess sugar can cause certain chemical imbalances in the brain, which can lead to depression and anxiety. These conditions are risk factors for substance misuse and increase the likelihood of relapse if left untreated. It also becomes more challenging to manage difficult emotions, such as sadness and hopelessness.
  • Sleep disturbances: People who consume excess sugar might find it challenging to get enough sleep during the night. They'll stay awake longer and feel more restless. Getting enough sleep is an integral part of the recovery process and allows the body and mind to heal. When sugar impacts your ability to sleep, it can create additional challenges in the recovery process.
  • Compound existing health effects: Sugar can also compound some of the health effects of substance use. Some substances can cause conditions where the teeth and gums decay. Sugar is known to cause cavities and other dental health problems, so combining the two will make dental health worse. Additionally, sugar can lead to heart issues, as do many substances.

There are ways you can avoid sugar while you're in recovery, such as:

  1. Reading labels before buying food products.
  2. Avoiding processed or sugary food and drink.
  3. Limiting eating condiments.
  4. Choosing healthy alternatives.
  5. Drinking coffee black or with natural sweeteners.
  6. Replacing candy with homemade trail mix.
  7. Using olive oil or vinegar as a replacement for sweet salad dressings.
  8. Avoiding alcoholic beverages or mixed drinks with sugar.
  9. Shopping at farmers' markets for fresh, sugar-free foods.

contact diamond house detox

Don't Develop a Sweet Tooth — Contact Diamond House Detox

It might be tempting to turn to sweets and other sugary foods to find comfort in the addiction recovery process. However, sugar itself can become an addiction, compounding existing problems from substance misuse and causing various health conditions. There are healthier coping mechanisms that can get you through the recovery process.

At Diamond House Detox, we have multiple treatment programs dedicated to treating substance misuse. We can help you detox from substances and create healthy coping skills to help you readjust to sober living.

Contact us today to learn more about our individualized treatment programs.

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Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner at Diamond House Detox
Vicky is a board certified Family Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, certified by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. She began her nursing career in healthcare by working in the intensive care unit, and then an inpatient psychiatric hospital. After realizing the mental health needs of both the patients and the families she served, she became a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner. Throughout her experience working with clients, she has developed a passion for those with dual diagnoses and specializes in helping individuals recognize the issues driving their substance use. This recognition has been crucial to the individual’s success in treatment. Vicky opened Diamond House Detox so that she can address these issues early on in a therapeutic environment to allow clients to transition to the next level in their recovery.
Vicky Magobet
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